It’s been said that in order to write, one must read. And I get it. Not only do you learn how to compose by seeing other styles of writing and how words flow together, but you get ideas. And there are lots of ideas floating about out there.
I was out of breath as I reached the top of the bluff. But it was worth the hike. I now had a falcon’s-eye view out over the South Fork of the Snake River. Absolutely beautiful.
The sprawling flood plain to the East was fully plowed and planted. Potatoes, wheat, and alfalfa. And maybe a few specialty crops lay low in the distance. Broccoli, cauliflower, rhubarb, and cabbage. Casting different hues of green. Forest green to fern, to mantis, to dark pastel, to castelton.
A number of days past, I made a post titled Wildflowers where I pondered the evolutionary adaptations of plants. How their beauty, shape, and the perfume of their flowers attract certain pollinators to ensure the propagation of their species.
Naturally, I simply enjoy their beauty, regardless of how it came to be. 😊
Then yesterday, I stumbled upon an article discussing the theories of “adaptive adornment” versus “arbitrary beauty.”* And I must admit, those terms are much more scientific and deliberately descriptive than my own ponderings.
It seems that Darwin had a second theory apart from natural selection – sexual selection.
I know there are times where the words just don’t seem to flow, but is that really “writer’s block?” I mean maybe I just don’t feel like writing something today. Maybe I have other things to do. Or maybe I’m a bit burnt.
Sometimes writing something, a story from the past or a poem about a relationship, is just like a sucker punch to the gut. It knocks the wind right out of me, and I really need some recovery time. Some mindless activity to let a new scab form over that old wound.
Some wounds take a while to heal. Some never seem to heal. Such is life.
In fact, some wounds I don’t want to heal. Never.
Now that might sound weird, but stop and think about it for a minute. Or two. Or three, maybe. However long you need. It may only be a blink of an eye for some of you.
There was a point I hit when I was a nurse where I had seen so much trauma that I really feared that I would no longer be able to cry. Seriously. Is there a limit on tears? Are we only given the capacity to have so many? Only allowed to cry one river of tears? If so, my tears were all used up.
But I experienced another tragedy shortly after that fear hit me that left me crying for a full day. And while the events of that tragedy were awful, I’m glad I experienced it. And I hold onto it. And I cry every time I think about it. And it happened over 25 years ago.
I’m just glad that I didn’t lose the human connection. My ability to empathize. My ability to feel emotion. To feel pain.
I think it’s essential to life itself.
If you lose this ability, you’re no longer human. You would no longer even be animal. You would be a machine. Processing mechanical inputs and spitting out mechanical outputs.
To feel is to heal. To feel is to love. To feel is to live.
To feel for another’s suffering demonstrates that interconnection we have with everything in all life. To actually feel the same feelings that another entity is experiencing, well, that’s a true connection of spirit.
It’s illuminating. It’s invaluable. It’s enlightenment in a raw form.
Photo: A portion of a dandelion’s head – its seeds covered in the morning dew. Imagine each drop of water to be a separate story. A story of life. All such stories are intertwined 🙂
I’ve been seeing a lot of articles and postings on the Net lately about Millennials. And a lot of it is very derogatory and carries an overall tone of blame. Blame for what? Apparently, there is a blame game now where if it looks like you’ll be delayed in reaching some of society’s dictated milestones, such as marriage, children, and owning a home, then you are defective.
In fact, people falling in this category are more than just defective. They are downright utter failures. And those in this generation acquiring a higher education are also called fools for racking up student loan debt.
Of course, if you visit the pages like LinkedIn, the general tone is that if you’re having difficulty achieving the American Dream, regardless of who you are but especially if you’re a Millennial, it’s because you are incompetent and lazy and simply haven’t learned to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It’s also assumed that you do not know how to prioritize your purchasing power and always spend beyond your means.
If you were only like the commentator who walked 20 miles to school each day, uphill, both ways, and forwent buying so much as a candy bar until they could afford to buy a falling apart car with the money they earned mowing lawns and doing other odd jobs until they became a self-made . . . blah, blah, blah . . . judgmental bigot?
I find such types of gross over-generalizations to be pretty ignorant.
I dislike beginning another blog with a chant about being absent for a while, but there it is. I’ve not been here. I’ve been elsewhere.
But where is “elsewhere?”
I kind of like that word. In fact, if I ever incorporated a township, that’s what I’d name it – Elsewhere. And everyone would be invited to go there and take a mental vacation. And better yet, while you were there you could conjure up any type of reality you desired. The only limits would be the boundaries of your imagination.
Actually, I think we are all in Elsewhere every day.
Well the old brain is clicking along today. Somewhat dazed, but the ramblings in my head don’t go away – except maybe when I meditate.
It’s funny we go through life trying to find meaning, to discover an identity for ourselves, and yet try as we might, we, as beings, are kind of hard to define. And if we can’t even define ourselves, then how can we elucidate a purpose for this existence.
As I was listening to a song this morning the lyrics kind of hit home when I heard, “I don’t even need a name anymore, when no one calls it out, it kind of vanishes away.”
I woke up to a chilly negative seven degrees this morning. That cold, biting air dug into my consciousness and said, “Hey, snap out of it.” But what was “it?”
“It” has been the brain fog I’ve been in now for over a week.
“It” has thoroughly slapped me around, kicked in my rib cage, pummeled my face, knocked me down, and thrown me off balance.
“It” has challenged my days and made it difficult to write.
Yeah, I know, excuses, excuses. But fighting pollution has taken on a whole new meaning for me this past couple of years. Those unseen flyspecks, minute assassins, bouncing around my home. Laying in wait. Invading my brain. Committing molecular murder.
With malice aforethought, “it” extinguishes my memory.
Industrial chemicals. A toxic world.
How to fight back? Drift into a day dream . . .
A deep, clear, midnight blue lake, stretching out on the horizon, lapping against the shores of lodge pole pines, mountains shadow down in the distance. Mirror reflections. A shimmering pool. A sailboat to slide across this glass surface. Sanguine, tranquil, serene.
A distant memory. Unleashing endorphins. Light dancing in my camera’s lens. Euphoric.
I crank up the music – Freddy Jones Band – In a Day Dream
Never looked so good.
I’m already in,
In a daydream.
The sun is shining,
To wake me up.
No one around,
Just me and the sky.
I’m already in,
In a daydream.
I’m already in,
In a daydream.
The sky is calling,
Calling out my name.
Telling me just to stay,
Stay and don’t go away.
I’m already in,
In a daydream.
I’m already in,
In a daydream.
In a daydream…
In a daydream…
In a daydream…
Already in a daydream…
And so I begin anew, rising from the flames, oscillating between past travels, and future adventures. The words come . . .
Photo: Day dreaming of the Grand Tetons.
Yesterday was an interesting day for me because I actually had visitors at my place. You see, my community, those people in my immediate physical sphere, as opposed to the cyber world, has shrunk over the years.
Our communities always shift and change. We had a different group of people we hung out with during school that pretty much split up and went their separate directions. Then we link up with significant others and that can bring their friends into our circles, but it can also begin to thin the numbers of friends that we have regular contact with as life takes over.
Time passes. People become busy. People raise families. People become involved in other things. People move.
A surprising number of people I’ve known have passed away.
“White Crane Spreads Its Wings.” “Repulsing the Monkey.” “Grasping the Bird’s Tale.”
These phrases, in isolation, might give you a laugh, but if you’re familiar with Tai Chi, you’ll recognize these names right off as they refer to particular forms or moments that can be part of several different Tai Chi routines. The words help construct an image of the movement that is not only descriptive but that helps you to memorize the parts of the form for practice.
In a multi-form routine, these word images help my poor brain remember what it’s supposed to do, and after a while, since this memory involves movement it can be incorporated into what’s called “non-declarative memory,” which requires no conscious awareness.
And thus, we have moving meditation 🙂
So, I’m back to studying about how our brains work and this time I’m reading about short-term memory. Memory is kind of important for without it we might have died off as a species.
We learned that fire was great for preventing us from freezing to death and wonderful for cooking our food, but not so great if directly applied to our bodies. We learned which berries were and weren’t poisonous, and how to hunt bison and mammoths without getting killed – probably by watching someone else die. But then we remembered, passed the information on, and managed to propagate the species.
Although we might wonder a bit about the new wave of “flat-earthers.”
And I know the scientific community goes a little overboard with dissecting and labeling everything but here goes.
It seems we have two types of short-term memory, declarative, like being able to regurgitate specific facts like “sharks swim in the ocean,” and non-declarative, which is like the motor skills we use to ride a bike. Declarative memory involves “effortful processing” or a lot of repetition. Non-declarative memory does not require conscious awareness and is sort of automatic. If we were asked, we probably wouldn’t list out every detailed step that goes along with riding a bike. We just go through those motions once the brain locks on and our feet are on the pedals, and we use a simple phrase to embody all of those movements.
There are four steps involved in short term memory. Encoding, storage, retrieval, and forgetting. Encoding is defined as the conversion of external sources of energy into electrical patterns the brain can understand. There are three types of encoding:
Semantic encoding – definitions,
Phonemic encoding – comparison of sounds – rhyming, and
Structural encoding – visual inspection of shapes.
The myriad of signals we receive from different sensory sources are registered in separate brain areas. It’s a fragmented experience, called the “blender effect.” There is no central storage or hard drive. Parts of a single event are scattered and stored all over the cerebral cortex. And a memory trace will lead you to the same parts of the brain where we originally processed the information.
The total number of brain changes to record an event or information is called an engram, and then comes the “binding problem” – how do we bring all of that sensory data back together from the various spots on the cerebral cortex where they were stashed to compose a complete memory?
While it’s counter-intuitive, it turns out, the more elaborately we encode, the more details and complexity surrounding the event, the better our retrieval of that memory.
Retrieval is also enhanced if we replicate the conditions where we experienced the event or came upon the data. So, if I learned that sharks swim in the ocean while I’m swimming in the ocean, I will remember this bit of information best when I’m back swimming in the ocean. How convenient.
It also seems that regardless of the setting where we encounter information, the majority of our forgetting will occur within the fist couple of hours that follows. People usually forget 90% of what they’ve learned within 30 days of the learning experience. Apparently, we discard what we don’t use quite quickly.
I know, I’ve forgotten much more over the years than I know right now 🙂
Spaced learning is more effective than massed learning and the more repetition cycles we have, the greater chance we’ll convert something to long-term memory. Tai Chi again provides a great example because we are taught each form separately and then add that to the entire routine, which we then repeat and continually refine.
And something I mentioned before in the post Boring, teaching is more effective if it includes meaningful examples and experiences and emotion. Real world situations familiar to the learner. The more personal the example, the better the encoding because we are adapted to “pattern matching” the new information with what we’ve learned before.
So why am I writing about this today? Because of the fascinating way we’re able to communicate and tell stories, of course. When I tell a story I want to transmit my memory to you, the reader. I use as many descriptive terms as I can think of to relay an experience – what I saw and heard, how something smelled, felt and tasted. How objects sat in space in relation to where I stood or traveled.
We’re able to communicate because of that pattern matching principle. I relate an experience to you and hope you’ve had enough similar experiences and gathered enough sensory data to “get it.”
Such is the challenge and art of writing. If we can paint an image that others can see, detail the scent of a flower that the reader can smell, have someone salivating over a recipe or bracing for an explosive sound, or transmit the feel of the smooth, silky skin of another as we describe caressing their face, then we’ve succeeded.
A lofty goal.
And hopefully the experiences we relate will be as memorable to our readers as they were to us.
Photo: This is one of my daughter’s dogs, Harper. He was over for a visit when I snapped this pic. I etched out the bare patterns with the photo editor creating what I call the “Ghost Dog.” Its an image descriptive of short-term memories. We can hold onto basic concepts and sensations, but over time they may fade into the less distinct and more nebulous 🙂
Source: I used the book Brain Rules by John Medina as my source for this post. Other posts of mine discussing the workings of our brains include:
I have to say, I really appreciate the WordPress community. I learned about WordPress when I was looking at job postings for writers and started noticing that a number of them required WordPress experience. So, I Googled it to find out what it was.
Then I met Laleh Chini on Twitter and was introduced to her blog, “A Voice from Iran.”
After checking out a few more blogs and seeing their beautiful formats, I decided to take the plunge.
One of the things that really amazes me it that we can meet people from all over the world. And even if their blogs are written in different languages, it’s not much trouble to copy and paste something into Google Translate and read it.
I like looking at other languages and seeing how others compose their ideas. I think the text is beautiful and I am awed about the whole concept of learning a language. How do we master such a thing? Other languages look so foreign to me, it’s hard for me to imagine how children in those countries grow up learning them. And multilingual people fascinate me even more.
It is such a human trait. Language. It’s taken for granted. And just look how much communication has evolved and the technology that we use now to share our stories all over the world.
I know we all love it when others in our community like our posts. So here are a few examples of beautiful language from around the world from some of my blogging friends just using the word “like.”
Italian Mi piace
German Gefällt mir
Spanish Me Gusta
Swedish Tycka om
Pakistan (Urdu) کی طرح
Nigeria (Yoruba) Bi
Phillipines (Filipino) Katulad
I’m sure you can all add to this list.
Another reason I like it when my blogging friends like my posts is that it reminds me to go check out their pages. It’s hard to keep up with all of the good writing out there so that serves as a nice prompt.
Looking forward to liking more of your posts 🙂
Photo: A closeup of a cactus in bloom at a botanical garden in the southwest. The feature image zooming-in is sort of other-worldly. A friend described it as looking like an underwater organism – a sea creature. An it does sort of look like a Sea Anemone. The full view is below. Amazing to see that flower with such exploding beauty thriving in desert conditions. This is my analogy to the beauty of language in all it’s forms, unexpectedly breathtaking 🙂
Back in June, I hit my 100th post. And yesterday, with the posting of “Deployment Day,” I’ve made my 200th! I think I’ll make a tradition of marking these milestones. It’s good to take a few moments to reflect.
I enjoy writing about multiple topics but probably enjoy storytelling the most – telling stories of life. And I’m happy to be getting some of these down on paper, well digitally. You know what I mean. Although they might seem rather random or scattered because they will involve both current and past experiences. My mind constantly bounces around. Nothing chronologically sequenced here.
I hope my daughter will be reading them and learning more about me too. That was one of my regrets when my father passed away. I would have liked to have heard more of his stories. The ones he did share were quite amazing and I learned so much from him.
As you can see, on my Home page, I have a number of “pinned” articles at the top. I rotate these periodically, usually highlighting articles that are the most popular. Ones that received the most hits or most likes. But that becomes sort of self-fulfilling. By having them pinned to the opening page, they continue to get more reads. So, I think I’ll start rotating other articles more frequently. After all, we keep picking up followers and new followers might not have seen our earlier posts.
Writing is always fun and a challenge. It’s kind of like a mental workout. Like going to the gym. The more you write, the stronger your writing becomes. And over time, you start learning what your audience likes too. It’s an experimental process.
I also find it challenging to pick photos for my stories. I try to choose images that relate to the story itself. A story within the story. A symbolic representation.
There are things I’ve written that I think are ok, and others that I’m really happy with. I’ll highlight some of my own favs 🙂
A big thank you to all of my followers. I appreciate your visits and your insights. I also appreciate your writing and continually enjoy discovering your wonderful posts.
I hope you all have a wonderful and peaceful day.
Photo: So I was struggling today to come up with an image representative of “200.” Have to say I was at a bit of a loss. Must be having a low creative energy day. I settled on this crazy pic of a wine bottle label that I took at a rather unique shop in Oregon. Sort of goes with the idea of something “vintage” or “aged.” I didn’t sample the “Wild Squirrel Wine” while I was there, though 🙂
Updates: I do update articles occasionally, but I don’t think that necessarily pops them up in the WordPress Reader again so that anyone would know about them. I last updated the article Balance on August 19th, but I just added an update to A Return to Tribalism today 🙂
“Sorry Dad, I’ve got to go. The alarms are going off again.”
All of our few chat sessions had ended the same way. Since we were instant messaging, she couldn’t see my tears. Have to stay strong.
“Love you, Kiddo.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
Time was passing slowly since that day back in January. When hopes and dreams seemed to fade into darkness. Way too slowly.
My daughter was seventeen when she joined the army. I gave my consent. That seemed to be the best decision at the time. She was headstrong like me and had made up her mind. I could sign the papers now or she could just wait a few more months and my approval wouldn’t have been necessary.
This would represent the fourth generation of the family to have served.*
At the time, it seemed there were few worries. She sailed through boot camp at Fort Jackson and was off for advanced infantry training at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
My little girl was becoming a diesel mechanic. Working on the big stuff. Heavy wheeled vehicles – HMMWVs, MRAPs, RTCHs, HETs, HEMTTs, LMTVs, fork lifts and cranes too – basically anything that would be transporting troops or supplies or be used in construction.* Drive shafts and transmissions were her specialty.
Her duty assignment came later than some of her fellow soldiers and she was wondering what was up. But when it turned out to be Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, we thought WOW! Hawaii! I remember telling her that maybe they rewarded the best with the best places. The azure blue waters of the Pacific. Endless sand beaches. Palm trees and tropical fruit. Sunsets over the water.
25th Infantry Division, “Tropic Lightning”; 84th Engineer Battalion, “Never Daunted”; 45th Corps Support; Alpha Company.
It didn’t sink in that Hawaii was where the major Asian-Pacific theater operations were staged. And it should have. My Dad was stationed at Hickam Field and was set for deployment to fight in Japan in WWII, but the A-Bomb interceded and bought that war to an earlier end.
So when her orders came for her to deploy to Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was stunned silent. All I could see was my little girl. Playing. Flying kites with her. Taking her to the water park. She used to hook her hands together behind my neck and I would stand up and let her hang there – called her my little necklace.
And now she was going to a war zone.
The date was set and I flew in for a two-week stay so I could spend some time with her. But the day I arrived, they advanced her ship-out date and we were only going to have two days. And time would be limited as she had duties to perform.
That time evaporated and for being in such a sunny place, it sure felt dark and heavy. Before I knew it, I found myself at her deployment ceremony.
The ceremony wasn’t held on an elaborate parade ground. There were no podiums for speakers. No gaggle of offices. No dress uniforms. This was much less formal and only for her company. I image similar ceremonies were happening all over the base.
The sun set early, around 6:30 pm, after the various family members had gathered on a basketball court.
I remember seeing children. A lot of children. Running, playing, and laughing, for the moment, and being picked up and held by their parents. Parents who were mere children themselves. Children dressed in desert camo. Gear assembled. M-16s and SAW Rifles issued. Serial numbers recorded. Three MREs passed out to each soldier.
My daughter, all 100 pounds of her, had a 110-pound rucksack on her back, a second pack around her shoulders, backwards, so it rested on her chest balancing out the weight. A separate carry-on, and the MREs stuffed in the pockets of her camo pants. I couldn’t have carried so much weight. Not even close. Plus, a rifle that looked bigger than she was.
The Captain gave a brief speech and buses began arriving to take her company to the airfield. I held my daughter tight. Other children clung on to their fathers or mothers crying don’t go, don’t go . . .
At the last moment possible all of us visitors released our grips and watched them board the buses. Once they were out of sight, and as we turned to walk away, it began to rain. The heavens opened and the sky was crying with us.
Rain drops mixing with our tears. Disappearing into porous volcanic soil . . .
My daughter completed her year’s tour over there on an airbase located near the center of the country. A base that received some 20 rocket attacks daily. One was even launched from inside the base. The locals had planned for their insurgency and had buried weapons before the invasion.
Their food was poisoned by Iraqi civilian workers in the mess hall. Bombs were set inside living quarters for the many foreign workers that were imported. An outdoor movie theater was rarely attended. It was too easy a target. The Base Exchange hit, as soldiers were exiting – having bought packaged food to avoid the mess hall.
While my daughter was on-base most of the time, they all had to “volunteer” for at least two convoys. Two of her platoon members died on one of those.
News was sketchy, but I found the BBC to have more honest and timely coverage. The generals didn’t want the public to know that they couldn’t secure their own base perimeters.
She sent me pictures of the graveyard for vehicles destroyed by IEDs. The remains of which they stripped to place armor on the vehicles that were lacking it.
Probably the most disturbing image came from her staging area in Kuwait. There she was in her desert camos with a bright swath of olive-green around her chest. They had run out of desert camo flak jackets and given them woodland green. And if that wasn’t making them stand out as a target enough, they had also run out of the protective plates that slide into and reinforce those jackets, so she had limited body armor covering her back.
Yes, I’m grateful she made it back without any physical injuries. But I don’t know what she still has to experience in her mind from those days.
I hold her tight whenever I see her.
*Sorry for all of the abbreviations, but that was better than slowing the readers down with this list 🙂
Mine Resistance Ambush Protected (MRAP) Vehicle series; High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) series; Rough Terrain Container Handler (RTCH); 6K Variable Reach Fork Lift; Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET) series with semi-trailers; Heavy Expandable Mobile Tactical Truck (HEMTT) series; Truck Cargo 5Ton series; Light Medium Tactical Vehicle (LMTV); and 10 Ton Cranes.
Thanks: I wish to extend my sincere thanks to all of those who serve, and have served, and to their parents, spouses and other family members for having known what they endure with their loved ones are deployed.
*And I must add a footnote: For clarity, in my generation, it was not I who served in the military. One of my brothers was in the Marines – Vietnam era vet. I tried to join but was unable due to having asthma. We do have an interesting family history. My Great, Great, Great Paternal Grandfather, and his two brothers, fled Germany in 1852 to escape being drafted into the German military. They were farmers. They immigrated to America, and the generations that followed began the tradition of serving in the US military. Ironically, we may have had family members shooting at each other in both World Wars.
Photo: My daughter, with her fellow company members, listen to the send-off speech from their Captain.